God works in mysterious ways. We all know that. So why should I have been surprised when a memory suddenly inserted itself into my brain today of a thunderstorm roiling the skies over my childhood house, lightning striking the ground, and the rackety sound of rain approaching? The sky turned green, and I plucked at my mother’s hand, “Where’s Nicky? Where is he?” I couldn’t put my worry into words, but I remember the sudden realization that I loved my brother dearly, that I didn’t think I could live without him, and that he needed to get home right now before I could fret anymore. Thankfully, he scooted into the house a few minutes later, drenched to the skin, and laughing.
If you think back you can remember those moments — holy moments — when you first realize you love someone. I recall looking into my newborn son’s face and feeling a love so deep and wide that I thought it would bear me away like a rushing river. I almost couldn’t contain it. Of course, I almost forgot that feeling when he cried for six hours straight one night, and I thought, briefly, that the Ancient Greeks were probably onto a good thing when they left their babies on the temple steps. It was a brief moment, promise.
I can see in my mind’s eye sitting across the table from the man I would eventually marry, sharing a conversation so sparkling and vivid that it outclassed the bubbles rising in our champagne glasses. This man could talk, and it was easy to love him, just as it was easy to love our new baby. (Why do men think that looking studly, having a fast car, or a good job, or whatever, is what attracts women? It is their talk that draws us in. Trust me on this.)
I remember loving — yes, loving is the right word here — the priest who brought me into our church years ago when he gave a homily about the Eucharist. He used as an example a homeless man sitting on a worn red vinyl stool in a restaurant, and when the waitress gave him a donut for free it was like the Bread of Life to this man. They were sharing Eucharist in a diner! I thought — this is a priest I could listen to forever.
When I met my best woman friend we were both waiting to see our doctors at the local health center, each of us hugely pregnant with our first child. Her smile had a powerful sweetness to it, as if she had a special knowledge of love and it was just waiting to come out. I wanted to sit next to her in the light of that smile. We have seen each other through many a joy and many a sorrow, and our sons are still best friends.
Which brings me to Mary, our Mother. When the Angel Gabriel invites her (as Fr. Robert Barron would put it) to be the mother of Jesus, she says “Yes” (thank God), and the Church celebrates her obedience. But isn’t it more than that? Isn’t Mary assenting to love — a love unseen, a love unknown, but one that would come into her life and change it forever? Read again these words from the Gospel of Luke: “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). If these “things” (the worship of the Shepherds and later, finding Jesus in the Temple) were contained in Mary’s heart, they must also have been marked by love.
I cannot do better than to take these memories of first loving someone and tuck them into the God-box of my heart — a place where I can go to find them, to remind myself that the world is still good at heart; that love is interwoven in my life, no matter the hardships; and that some time beyond time, God will open my heart and say, “Yes, you loved. Welcome home!”